20 Best Avant Albums of 2016

The year's best in ambient, noise, out-jazz, synth music, contemporary composition and more

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Brian Eno, 'The Ship'

5. Brian Eno, 'The Ship'

The germ for Brian Eno's latest project, he told Rolling Stone, was, "What about making a song that you could walk around inside?" The Ship's long, immersive, vocal-melody-heavy pieces are certainly songlike – catchy even – but without being tethered to rhythm. More than any Eno album, this combines all of his disciplinary muses: The gorgeous drifts of his tectonic-shifting ambient music, the generative logic of his addictive iPhone app, the dead-eyed vocals of his art-rock Seventies and the big vision of his museum installations. Plus, his long obsession with taffy-stretching tweaks on the human voice puts him in a current contextual conversation with Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver and Oneohtrix Point Never, among others. Still, following 42 minutes of nautical ping and celestial float, a straightforward cover of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free" feels like arriving at a familiar harbor.                        

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